23 July 2007

Justice and consent, form and intent

Dan Martins+ -- who writes a most excellent blog, always worth reading -- appears to have broken a significant story today. It seems that the consent forms for the recently-consecrated Bishop of Virginia may have been defective. Ordinarily, one might expect to look past a few changes in wording on documents like this, but these are not ordinary times. You may recall that a few months ago, the election of Mark Lawrence as Bishop of South Carolina was overturned due to defects in some of the consents from standing committees.

For readers of this blog outside the US: a diocese elects its bishop. Then (unless the election occurs near the time of General Convention) a majority of diocesan standing committees and diocesan bishops must consent to the election within a specified time for it to be considered valid.

In the case of South Carolina, it seems that sufficient standing committees had the intent to consent to the election, but their forms did not follow that clearly specified in the canons. Citing those very specific canons, Bishop Katharine declared the election "null and void." Here's what she said then:
"In the past, when consents to episcopal elections have been so closely contested, the diocese has been diligent in seeking to have canonically adequate ballots submitted, asking Standing Committees to resubmit their ballots when necessary," she added. "It is certainly my hope that in future any diocese seeking consent to an election will use all possible effort to ensure that ballots are received in an appropriate form and in a timely manner." (emphasis mine)
Was a different standard used in the case of Virginia's election? As Dan's post makes clear, the wording of the Virginia consent form is clearly not the same as the wording in the canons. If the intent to consent were all that mattered, then there would be no problem with this election. But a few months ago, we were told that form matters too, not just intent.

If the facts as presented in Dan's blog posting -- and the letter it quotes from San Joaquin -- are true, then we have a serious problem indeed. I'll reserve further comment until we hear more, as I am sure we will. "Sarah", who I believe is Sarah Hey from Stand Firm, has posted a comment at T19 suggesting that we all wait and see what this means and listen for an explanation. That's right -- we shouldn't leap to conclusions, but this is cause for concern.

I am an enormous fan of Bishop Katharine and her leadership. When I say "815" I do it with fondness most of the time. Let us hope there is an obvious explanation for all this, and that we are not seeing the double-standard that those on the right often perceive. In these critical times in our church, it is vital for all leadership -- parish, diocesan, and church-wide -- to be absolutely fair, just, and transparent. If those of us on the progressive side of things are going to demand justice, we can do no less in our own ministry and leadership.


Karen said...

Scott, your post is really encouraging reading this morning.

Thank you for understanding why this matter is of concern at this time in our life as a church and for focusing on the issues rather than partisanship. I hope many others on the "progressive side" will follow your example rather than making this all about San Joaquin, South Carolina or Mark Lawrence.

Alan said...

Speaking as a staunch Reasserter, my thanks for the great post. We do need to take a deep breath on this, but we most certainly do need some explanation from TEC as to why this is, or is not, consistent with recent usage on consents.

BTW, Sarah is indeed Sarah Hey, pronounced "High." Rimes with "eye," I guess.


Scott Gunn said...

Karen and Alan,

Thanks for visiting this corner of the blogosphere, and thanks for your kind words.

It seems to me that many of us lose sight of several things in all our theological and ecclesial skirmishes. I think almost everyone (on any side of the "issues") is acting in good faith. Clearly, some of us are misguided, since some of our conclusions are utterly contradictory with one another, but I think most people are doing what they're doing in order to try to make the church better. We ought to remember that. We also ought to treat people with dignity and respect and justice, especially when they differ from us on the issues.

I can't help but think that if we practiced fairness and kindness in all this, we might find a way forward, or perhaps more of us would experience some kind of conversion. I don't imagine the progressive side has it all correct, nor do I imagine that conservative side has it all wrong.

Back to your comments, yes, we need to make this particular incident about the facts, not our own preconceived notions. I hope we could all seek do the same for every instance of church difficulty and struggle.


Reverend boy said...

As a gay liberal evangelical, I too applaud Scott's "voice of reason" about many things.

I did come across a post on Episcope titled "And another thing ... " which seems to explain the problem ... In the case of SC, the issue was the signatures, and apparently the consent form they used was the shorter version of what is perscribed in the canons. In the Virginia case, they used the shorter version as well, but there is no signature issue.

I do still wonder if 815 & co. will say something, though ...